The Jewish Name Game

I just received two of the death certificates I ordered from New York City.

One belonged to my great grandmother which has given me the exact date of death and also the cemetery in which she was supposedly buried. Naturally, as is my luck, I can’t find her listed in the cemetery records. It can never be that easy!


The other belonged to my 2nd great grandmother which gave me a lot of information. Her parents’ names- particularly her father’s name, were on the certificate as well as, bonus- her mother’s maiden name. It also listed her cause of death, address at the time of death, and again cemetery.


Now, regarding Fannie’s certificate, I should have a lot new information to look for. Yeah…well, not really. Searching for Mendel Citron has given me nothing- not even a census record. The same with Sarah Ostrow- although I have found quite a few things regarding birth records in Poland- I have no way of being sure it’s the right person.

Complicating matters is the Jewish name dilemma. Most practicing Jews had two names- their everyday name, and their Hebrew name. So while Fannie might have been known by that moniker- it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the name she was buried with, she may have been buried under (no pun intended) her Hebrew name. I, of course, have no idea what that might have been.

This plays into the fact that I can’t find her parents in any census records- I should at least be able to find them in 1900 or 1910. So either A) they were missed by the census takers, B) the names have been transcribed or originally recorded incorrectly, or C) they used different names, which again, I have no idea what they would be.

I’m assuming that “Washington” listed as the cemetery in which Fannie is buried is the Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, but, big surprise, she’s not listed in their records.

I’m hoping that when Fannie’s marriage certificate comes in it will confirm her parent’s names and maybe, dare I hope, give an origin that isn’t as vague as Austria. With my luck, it will say Russia.

Of course, finding their graves might not be helpful either. 

Multiple people have looked at these tombstones belonging to my 2nd great grandparents



and have been unable to translate the inscriptions. This is because they are in Yiddish, which basically no one nowadays knows how to read. If they had been in Hebrew, it would have been no problem- but apparently there’s enough variation between Yiddish and Hebrew that they are not mutually intelligible.

I’ve been trying to get on to the website, but I’m guessing it’s down for something or other right now. I’m very curious about Sara’s last name Ostrow. It seems there are multiple towns in Poland with that name. Would she have the town name as her last name or would someone just have pinned it on her because that’s where she was from?? And is Ostrow even the original last name? No idea.

We shall see if I find anything today. I’m hoping, but not hopeful. 

P.S. If anyone knows how to read Yiddish, or knows someone who does, hit me up!!!


Camera Shy?

I spent this weekend working on my thesis.

HAHAHA- Of course I didn’t!!

What I did spend a lot of time doing was looking through old yearbooks from Meredith College- which lucky for me, are available online.

I started looking because of this:


(Left column, fifth and sixth paragraphs)

There’s Sheldon Shaw, my great grandmother. 

This clipping is from the Twig, a publication of Meredith College, located in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s dated May 6, 1927. 

I desperately want to find a picture of Sheldon. We have nothing from that branch of the family- no pictures, no documents, no memories- nothing. Besides growing up without her father, my mother also had no connection with his family. I don’t know whose choice that was, and considering most of them are deceased (or in John Rigsbee’s case, presumed dead), it’s really a moot point by now.

So I was in contact with a cousin from the Allen branch (Hazel Allen being Sheldon’s mother) and she told me that those yearbooks were available online. 

My search yielded no results. No mention of her in any of the yearbooks. Then it struck me that she was 14 years old in 1927. I’m not familiar with the format of Meredith College in the 1920’s. My cousin said they used to have high school level classes as well, but they stopped that practice in 1917. So what was she doing there? I have no idea. I looked through yearbooks page by page from 1926-1933 and found nothing.

It seems odd to me that Sheldon was obviously a socialite and I have yet to find a single picture of her. I’ve found articles in newspapers with Miss Sheldon Shaw is going to visit her friend, Miss So-and-So, or Miss So-and-So is coming to visit Miss Sheldon Shaw. I’ve also found that she was presented in the 1931 North Carolina Debutante Ball. So you’d think there has to be a photo of her somewhere!!!

I hate to think that somewhere, in an antique shop is her picture in a box of old photos being sold for a dollar a piece. “Instant ancestors” someone once called them.

I have some emails out trying to get in touch with the archivist/historian/equivalent of Meredith College to try to figure out what Sheldon was doing there. I am also trying to find if the Debutante Ball has any sort of archives or historical records.

Once again I’ve hit a brick wall. Sheldon is one of the ever-elusive leaves on my family tree.

I might as well go back to my paper, at least that’s one mystery that’s already been solved!

Global Family Reunion

A.J. Jacobs is one of my favorite authors. So when I found out his next book was about genealogy I was super-excited. Then I saw that he’s planning on hosting a “Global Family Reunion,” well just awesome!

Jacobs has written books about



reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica,




following all Biblical rules for a year,




using himself as a guinea pig- most memorably (for me) when he outsourced his life for a month,





in which he focuses on health by trying all sorts of fad diets.

Anyways, Jacob’s goal is to beat the world record for largest family reunion, currently held by the Porteau-Boileve family in France. So he needs at least 4,514 relatives to show up.

I don’t know that I would use the sites that he is using for his research (wikitree, geni, werelate) because I have spent way too much time on my tree to allow some random person to change things collaborate. But I suppose it’s fun for discovering distant cousins and putting together a loose genealogical record.

I aim to go to this reunion. We’ve sent Jacobs the information he asked for to prove relationships and I’m hoping to find out that we are, however distantly, related.

New York Times article:

More info at Jacobs’ website:


New tips

I haven’t been posting here as often as I like/want. Writing my master’s thesis is sucking up the majority of my time and creativity. 

But I have, in a few spare moments here and there, found a few new things.

A distant cousin contacted me a few months ago and tipped me about the following websites.


But you’re not Italian? Neither am I. What this site has is an amazing database of New York City records where it has been possible for me to find the certificate numbers of deaths and marriages in my tree. 


I haven’t yet spent a lot of time on this site. But so far it’s helped me locate the shtetl of Delyatitz, which the Robinowitz family hailed from. Now I know that the town was located in modern-day Belarus. I’ve really only used the shtetl finder function, but the rest of the site looks like it will be helpful when I get more information on the Citron branch.

The next thing I’ve found is that it’s much cheaper to order records from New York City than to use VitalCheck.

“The Municipal Archives maintains records of births reported in the five Boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island), prior to 1910; deaths reported prior to 1949; and marriages reported prior to 1930. For a complete description of the vital records collection, please see a list of the Municipal Archives Holdings. Vital record copies are $15.00 each.”

I ordered four death certificates and one marriage certificate. That grand total came to about $88 (including shipping). I would have spent more than that ordering two records through vital check. If you have relatives that lived and died in NYC during the time periods they have listed- you will save a ton of money if you want the documents. I once spent $48 on a single death certificate from Los Angeles that I ordered through VitalCheck.

I want the documents to see: a) cause of death, b) parental information, c) dates.

Right now I’m on the hunt for Fani Citron. She is my 2nd great grandmother. Just last weekend I realized that she came to the US when she was a child. I think I’ve found a ship’s passenger list with her arriving with her mother and three brothers. So far I haven’t been able to figure out who her father was. But I’m assuming the family was coming to join him- so he must be here somewhere.

Two of the records I ordered from NYC are hers- a death certificate and a marriage certificate. Hopefully those will provide some more information.

I’ll be back at some point, when I emerge from the 1918 influenza pandemic (my thesis topic). It’s due alarmingly soon and I need to finish it!!!